Hamilton coach Steve Belles knows he has to tweak his game plan for Friday's Division I semifinal game against Desert Ridge, but it's a fine line.
The Huskies' decision to cover the Jaguars' receivers man-to-man without any safety help worked out perfectly in the teams' regular season meeting, a 28-6 Hamilton victory. Desert Ridge's offense was shut out as the Huskies' defense dominated.
Belles said sticking to the same script in the rematch can't be done, but he's wrestling with how much to change.
"If a team is successful defensively, you don't want to tweak too much, but you know (Desert Ridge is) smart and they're going to make changes," he said. "It then becomes a mind game."
After the first meeting, it seems clear that Hamilton has the more powerful chess pieces on the board, so Desert Ridge needs a solid game plan and nearly flawless execution to pull off the upset.
When the teams met on September 16, the Jaguars were a trendy pick to win because they returned several key offensive players from a squad that only lost 21-13 to Hamilton in last year's title game.
But even though Hamilton had several new parts, the Huskies dominated from start to finish, and it's up to Desert Ridge coach Jeremy Hathcock to figure out a new way to end Hamilton's 52-game winning streak.
"If they defend it the way we think they will, we have multiple looks where we think we can get answers," Hathcock said. "They have a little better athletes, so what we have to do is find the matchups. I don't know if we can dictate to them, but one thing we have to do is put pressure on their defense."
Hamilton's ability to slow down Desert Ridge's Big Three of Parker Rasmussen, Joey Counts and Jordan Becerra got the most ink in the first matchup, but it's Desert Ridge's defense that must keep the Jaguars in the game.
Defensive end Damani Moseby was a force in the first contest, getting a sack and a forced fumble that resulted in Trevor Ramero returning the ball for a touchdown for the team's only points. Moseby was in the backfield regularly, although Hamilton quarterback Blake Kemp had a knack for scrambling and avoiding the sack.
"He's as quick as anybody in the state," Belles said. "We don't even have a kid like that."
The Huskies' offense has improved greatly from the first meeting. Kemp shook off a slow start and has since set a school record with 2,125 passing yards this year. Wide receiver Kendyl Taylor is the game-breaker, while the team goes running back by committee.
Desert Ridge is as healthy as it has been this year as well. Counts was still making his way back from a shoulder injury in the first game between the teams and was a non-factor but is 100 percent for this one.
"It's a huge boost, but then I look at what Hamilton did to (Chandler running back Paul) Perkins," Hathcock said. "Thirty-six yards? Their defense is impressive."
Belles admitted that in last year's championship game, Desert Ridge surprised the Huskies with its intensity, and the Jaguars almost pulled off the upset. In the contest earlier this year, Hamilton had an answer for everything the Jaguars tried.
"You can't just line up and say, ‘Here we come,'" Hathcock said. "In the state championship game, we were totally unorthodox. The same can be said this time. We need to have some variations and wrinkles. If they're going to draw up a defense to stop us, we need an offense to beat them."